Written by Emilee Lindner • Photography by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images • June 29, 2017
There's something about a huge summer concert that can stop an entire town. When U2 announced they were extending their The Joshua Tree 30th anniversary tour, I heard rumblings from back home in Western New York: U2 was coming to Buffalo, and they were going to postpone the first day of school because of it. Naturally, I asked my music-loving uncle if he had plans to see U2 play their seminal album live. He's my, uh, interesting uncle, and he replied with, "No, I think Bono is trying to take over the world." I brushed off the comment, already dreaming of my time to see U2.
That time came on June 28 at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, a little bit closer to where I currently live in Brooklyn. The Irish band didn't quite delay school or anything major, but New York's Penn Station transformed into an antsy pre-game party as folks wearing U2 T-shirts grabbed 16-ounce beers from underground delis and headed for NJ Transit. Overpacked trains were speckled with the jovial concert-goers -- a refreshing contrast from the usual misery of daily commuters. On our way to the gig, we just, well, existed together.
That would quickly change as U2 fans squeezed to the front of the stage. Those wearing vintage tour shirts traded strories from following the band back in the day, slapping each other on the back. Standing on the field -- the same field where football players tackle each other for glory -- a group of Jersians and New Yorkers came together. Looking up, there were thousands of us.
When U2 finally went on -- following a rustic set from The Lumineers -- at 9:30. Bono, Adam Clayton and The Edge walked down a catwalk to a stage shaped like a Joshua tree, and started ripping through the rousing "Sunday Bloody Sunday" -- a warm-up for what would be a set complete with The Joshua Tree in its entirety. Filling out the first section with "Bad," "New Year's Day" and "Pride (In the Name of Love)," they then launched into the most anticipated part of the night when a giant version of the album's iconic Joshua tree was illuminated on a giant screen.
The visuals, quite simply, were stunning (like, honestly, the screen was like 12 billion resolution... or something). Images of a loney road rolled out during "Where the Streets Have No Name." Footage of the actual Joshua Tree Park drifted across the screen -- crisp and clear -- for "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For." The faces of a diverse America took turns donning a military helmet, proving that patriotism can take many forms.
The songs felt familiar and classic -- a bit of nostalgia that U2 has never dived into before. The Joshua Tree Tour is the first time they've based a tour around an older album. But, according to The Edge in Rolling Stone, The Joshua Tree has more relevance now than it ever has:
"We ... were looking at the anniversary of The Joshua Tree, and another thing started to dawn on us, which is that weirdly enough, things have kind of come full circle, if you want. That record was written in the mid-Eighties, during the Reagan-Thatcher era of British and U.S. politics. It was a period when there was a lot of unrest. Thatcher was in the throes of trying to put down the miners' strike; there was all kinds of shenanigans going on in Central America. It feels like we're right back there in a way. I don't think any of our work has ever come full circle to that extent. It just felt like, 'Wow, these songs have a new meaning and a new resonance today that they didn't have three years ago, four years ago.' And so it was kind of serendipitous, really, just the realization that we needed to put the [new, upcoming] album on ice for a minute just to really think about it one more time before putting it out, just to make sure that it really was what we wanted to say."
There's nothing I can say that hasn't been said about what U2 is doing for America with The Joshua Tree Tour. Oddly enough, as non-Americans, they're reminding us how to be decent Americans, making it their worldly duty to bring awareness to our intolerance of other cultures. In the most moving parts of the show, Bono was quoting Martin Luther King Jr. and the Declaration of Independence, reminding us of a time when we truly had to fight for freedom. As U2 clearly denounces the Trump administration and Brexit, they made a point to highlight refugees looking to throw themselves "into the arms of America." On screen, fans at MetLife met a 15-year-old refugee looking to follow her American dream, and as people in the 100 section passed a flag with her face on it, it felt as if America had its arms open to those needing to find a life.
Sadly enough, the timing of that moment had my jaw on the floor this morning as CNN reported that a new travel ban will go into effect at 8 tonight, barring grandparents, aunts, uncles and more from visiting their family in the U.S.
After they finished with The Joshua Tree, taking a bow, they went on to play some more fan-favorites, including "One" (where Bono offered a call to join their non-profit to aid global poverty), "Elevation," "Vertigo" and "Beautiful Day."
We made the trek back across the Hudson River, surrounded by other people who'd had the same holy experience -- our hearts, all of them, a little lighter with love. Once again, we were all just existing together, fresh out of show and back into the real world, where we had to take Bono's sermon and apply it to our lives. The Statue of Liberty -- a beacon for immigrants all those years ago on the New York Bay glowed in the night. I thought about what my uncle said: "Bono's trying to take over the world." No, that's not true. Bono is merely a vessel for love. And love is what needs to take over the world. Now, more than ever.
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